Sunday, February 18, 2018

I hate this ballet. It makes me cry.

I just saw The Washington Ballet's performance of John Cranko's "Romeo and Juliet". Damned bastards made me cry. But I'll never admit it.

Of course I've read Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and seen it performed on stage. I saw the San Francisco Ballet's production in November of 2012. (How has it been FIVE years?) I hadn't seen Cranko's version though.

The leads today were Ayano Kimura as Juliet and Jonathan Jordan as Romeo. They absolutely killed their roles (pun intended). Oscar Sanchez was notable as a fiendish Tybalt. And what can I say about Andile Ndlovu as a skilled yet playful Mercutio; they must feed him a diet of espresso beans and raw sugar for him to have the energy he displays.

Visually it was interesting. The sets were gorgeous. Most of the male dancers wore variants on standard ballet costumes, with tights and a doublet. A quartet of circus performers were gaily attired. Juliet wore a calf-length, empire-waisted, diaphanous dress, and she and the Lily Maidens were the only dancers I noticed wearing pointe shoes. Most of the women wore long, full, opaque gowns that entirely hid their legs and feet. I wonder about that choice of costume because I saw two of them trip and fall. One of them might have been part of the choreography (one character tripping another) though I think not, but I'm convinced the other was entirely an accident due to the costume. She was moving quickly toward the far left downstage and possibly off-stage, but fell with a loud "thunk" just before reaching the wing. She remained motionless for a couple of seconds, then it looked like she dragged herself off stage with her hands. I'm not sure if she was injured or if, lacking a hole to drop into, thought that was the least obvious way to get off stage.

If I had to offer a criticism of the choreography it'd be that there is surprisingly little of what I think of as ballet in this ballet. There's a lot of movement, some of it dancing, and a few isolated scenes of ballet exhibition. For example, Jordan, Ndlovu, and company apprentice Alexandros Pappajohn (who played Benvolio) did an impressive series of double-tours among other steps. There was a LOT of expressive acting. But not a lot of ballet. At least not until the second act when we start to see Romeo and Juliet interacting.

Together, Kimura and Jordan were not putting on technical demonstrations, they were telling a story. The story might have been first performed over 400 years old, and has been told by countless authors and performers in countless other languages, but even without words you could feel the emotion. It was like the tide that builds and builds until you found yourself knee-deep. From my seat five rows back from the orchestra pit you could see it in their faces as well as their bodies.

I actually gave thought to skipping the third act. I know how this story ends, and it isn't a happy one. And in this production you don't even get the play's denouement of the Capulet and Montague families coming together over the tragedy. Instead you're left with the image of the lifeless bodies of the two lovers draped over each other as the curtain falls and the theatre is left in darkness. But I didn't.

Often, when the curtain rises and the leads come forward to take their bows, their faces express excitement, presumably for a show well done. I generally see the closing night's performance, so can also be a relief from the stress of performing until the next production opens. This time I saw sadness on Ayano Kimura's face, though whether it was a carry-over from Juliet's anguish or something else I have no way of knowing. Or maybe that's just how she looks as she faces a large crowd offering a standing ovation.

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